Nov. 17, 2014 | Volume XXII, Issue 14

IDR hosts program, talks cross-cultural empathy

Published: November 12th, 2013

Category: News

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UF Law Emeritus Professor Don Peters lectured on how to be more effective mediators, cross-culturally, during the “Challenges for the Advanced Mediator” held by the Institute for Dispute Resolution on Oct. 25. (Photo by Javier Edwards)

By Jenna Box (4JM)

A room full of well-dressed, yet somewhat groggy, mediators perked up at about 9 a.m. on a Friday when UF Law Emeritus Professor Don Peters exclaimed, “He kissed me!”

Surprise quickly turned to laughter as Peters’ audience realized his point: that mediators need to know how to listen and express empathy cross-culturally. The need for cultural awareness is obvious, Peters said — “just look at how different other cultures greet!”

UF Law’s Institute for Dispute Resolution hosted its 3rd annual Continuing Mediator Education program, “Challenges for the Advanced Mediator,” in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center Courtroom on Oct. 25. The event addressed topics including ethics, domestic violence, diversity and cultural awareness.

More than 50 people registered for the eight-hour program, which started with a presentation by Peters and his wife, Martha. Together, the two have “taught on every continent — except maybe Antarctica,” said Robin Davis, director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution.

The couple shared these experiences in a presentation that gave examples of how advanced mediators could improve in expressing empathy.

How a mediator responds to a situation — such as being greeted with a kiss when he or she is not used to it — will build or break the mediator’s and the client’s relationship of trust, Martha Peters said. Trust is essential to effective communication, which is necessary to the process of mediation.

The duo discussed tactics mediators could use to improve their listening and empathizing with clients — but noted that some tactics differ across cultures. For instance, eye contact is not always the best way to demonstrate listening when it comes to other cultural norms. However, a mediator could paraphrase or summarize the facts of what he or she just heard as a way to demonstrate listening cross-culturally, they said.

The Institute for Dispute Resolution, which hosted the event, equips law students with mediation training and offers IDR courses. Through this, students who complete the courses and training are ready to take on the many challenges they may be faced with during their legal career. Available courses include mediation, negotiation, interviewing and counseling, and other alternative-dispute-resolution-related topics.

“Since only 0.2 (percent) of all civil cases are resolved by jury trial, alternative dispute resolution is extremely important for law students to become knowledgeable about and competent to participate in processes such as mediation and arbitration,” Davis said. “Evaluations received from this and past year’s programs attest to the quality of the program and also the attendees’ appreciation of such a program being offered by the institute at UF College of Law.”

The event continued with presentations including: “Listening Pays for Professional Mediators,” “The Right Way to Do the Right Thing: Ethical Dilemmas in Mediation,” and “Batterer’s Intervention: How, Why and What.” The program offered participants the opportunity to claim eight hours of continuing mediator education credit.

Davis said that besides sponsoring a variety of alternative dispute resolution workshops, trainings and symposia, the institute supports and funds the student-organization, Gators for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Don Peters is an emeritus professor of law and former director of the IDR. He occasionally teaches classes, including, negotiation, mediation, mediation advocacy, interviewing and counseling. He has taught civil procedure, professional responsibility, peace-building, family law clinic and county mediation clinic. He is a certified family, county and circuit court mediator by the Florida Supreme Court.

Martha Peters is an emerita professor of legal education at the Elon University College of Law. In 1984 she created the Law Student Resources Program at UF Law and has continued to assist law students with law study skills and stress management. Martha Peters has a bachelor of arts in psychology from Mary Baldwin College, a master’s in education and a doctorate in educational psychology. She also holds an educational specialist in counselor education from UF and is a National Board Certified Counselor.

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